The row that erupted after the relaunch of the Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ) and its off-the-record briefing with ANC President Jacob Zuma shows precisely the need for such a body, writes Abbey Makoe, one of the people behind the initiative and the SABC's political editor. Black journalists still need to struggle to assert themselves in newsrooms, even though leadership has changed in colour.

Abbey Makoe writes in the Saturday Star: (subscribers only)

One of the first misconceptions that I want to deal with is the oft purported lie that the Forum of Black Journalists is a racist organisation. That is not true. We are not anti-white. Rather, we are pro-black. Confused? Don't worry. I'll clear that up in a jiffy.

The FBJ was started in 1996 and officially launched the following year by the then deputy president of the country, Thabo Mbeki. He is still an honorary member of the organisation. But, then, he's not really the subject today.

Our aim, then and now, was to ensure that all journalists from previously disadvantaged backgrounds were organised into a meaningful group that would frequently get together and discuss matters of mutual interest.

For example, in a transition, what is the role of the black journalist in interpreting change – good or bad? There is no denying that the replacement of apartheid by democracy is good change.

But what change in the glaringly unequal newsrooms? Does the replacement of white editors and other executives by their black counterparts impact on the national agenda of our fledgling democracy?

Since the relaunch of the FBJ last Friday in Sandton – where we invited ANC president Jacob Zuma, as well as FBJ members and aspiring or potential members – the brouhaha that followed makes me feel that perhaps there isn't any need to explain why there is a need for such a body.

Personally, I have had to endure a flurry of insults, notably from Talk Radio 702 and The Citizen, the daily founded with stolen money at the height of white hypocrisy and its soulmate, apartheid.

What I cannot accept, however, is when people who hardly know me, make pronouncements in their concerted effort to assassinate my character.
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Among the few but very loud misguided, self-proclaimed champions of the cause of racial injustice is one Fiona Forde, a Johnny-come-lately Irish journalist, who has enjoyed the hospitality of our country for just over a year. I have met her only three times, and the total amount of time of our direct interaction in all three encounters does not go beyond a quarter of an hour. Yet she has the nerve to describe me as a militant!

Reading her lopsided piece in the Saturday Star last week, one would be forgiven for thinking I had lifted her on my shoulders and thrown her out of our meeting room (and, by the way, I still don't know what she was doing there, as she wasn't invited).

Elsewhere, on 702, Forde's countryman, John Robbie, was ranting about black journalists who endorse the FBJ as a group of lunatics. I challenge the owners of Talk Radio 702 to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Robbie et al. Yusuf Abramjee, a infamous beneficiary of the abominable tricameral parliament system that discriminated totally against people of African descent, is a drama queen whose antics at the FBJ meeting were as baffling as they were annoying.

Let me clear this up once and for all: the FBJ meeting was not a press conference where white colleagues were barred. It was a private affair organised by like-minded, formerly disadvantaged newsmen and -women. It is hypocritical for the white intruders to rock up unannounced at a private function. It's never done in white culture. You do not turn up when not invited. Simple as that. Was it because we were a bunch of darkies doing what we should not even think about?

Hear me: I shall not apologise for being black.

To the former FBJ members who have made it to the top and are now lambasting us, I say: Dissenters of a cause are seldom the champions of a cause. I am particularly amazed at the behaviour of some, who behave as if the re-emergence of the FBJ threatens their comfort at the top.

# The reference to militancy was, in fact, a quote from an anonymous black journalist – The Editor